There’s a new wrinkle in Alaska’s hotly contested GOP Senate primary. With all precincts reporting, Senator Lisa Murkowski is trailing Palin-endorsed insurgent Joe Miller by less than 2,000 votes. And a source inside Murkowski’s campaign tells The Daily Beast the senator may abandon the GOP for a third-party run. Shushannah Walshe reports from Alaska.
All the precincts in Alaska have now reported and Joe Miller, the primary challenger for the Alaskan Republican Senate race, is still leading incumbent Lisa Murkowski by less than 2,000 votes.
The ongoing battle for who won the Republican primary in the Alaska Senate race will come down to the absentee ballots, but in an exclusive interview with The Daily Beast, a source within the Murkowski campaign says they know of one possible legal option to pursue a third-party run. If Murkowski is not victorious when the absentee ballots are counted and decides to wage an Independent party bid, they might consider using this option, which the source wouldn't describe, but did confirm they were seriously looking at.
Murkowski is not a secessionist, which Alaskans know, and an aggressive PR campaign promoting her independence rather than the AIP may be her only route back to Washington this fall.
"We are going to take a look at them and see whether the option is there or not, but it's a decision she (Murkowski) has to make," the Murkowski camp source said. "There is an option I know of."
In a general election, Murkowski would be hard to beat. The camp said it would also be a message to their supporters who didn't bother going to the polls Tuesday.
• Shushannah Walshe: Palin's Prey Lashes Out• Mark McKinnon: 5 Lessons from the Primaries• Complete coverage of the primaries• Palin’s New Man in Alaska"If she were to make that decision she would definitely be a strong candidate. She has a substantial amount of money left, and one would have to wonder whether or not last night's results are a wake-up call to less-motivated, moderate, middle-of-the-road voters who went home after work yesterday in the sunshine and thought it's not a big deal, she would win."
Although it’s not exactly clear what options the Murkowski camp are now exploring, one possibility is running a write-in campaign, which would be a very difficult and unlikely option. According to the elections coordinator in the Alaska Department of Elections, Murkowski has until October 28 to file as a write-in, in which case write-in votes for her would be counted if the aggregate total of all write-ins is greater than the number of ballots cast for the first-place candidate, or within the range that would require a recount. In the coordinator's 14 years, this has never happened in a state race.
The other possibility: the Alaska Independence Party. Former Governor Wally Hickel lost the Republican primary in 1990, but won in the general by being on the Alaskan Independence Party (AIP) ticket. A third-party run could work for Murkowski as the Democrat's candidate is largely unknown Sitka mayor Scott McAdams, but she would have to overcome the main reason the AIP exists in the Last Frontier: They are a secessionist party calling for Alaska to leave the United States. Obviously, Murkowski is not a secessionist, which Alaskans know, and an aggressive PR campaign promoting her independence rather than the AIP may be her only route back to Washington this fall.
However, according to the Anchorage Daily News the only third party line Murkowski could run on is as a Libertarian. Since there is no other third party candidate running this would be the only option (besides a write-in candidacy) but the current candidate would have to choose to step down.
In a press conference at her Anchorage headquarters, Murkowski stressed that every absentee will be counted, “It ain’t over yet folks. There are thousands of absentees that are yet to come in.” But in response to a question about a third party or write-in candidacy she said it was “way, way, way too premature to even be talking about that.”
And it could be weeks before all of the absentee ballots are counted. The deadline for absentee ballots to be received from the United States is September 3 and for overseas and military ballots they have until September 8th to come in. In both cases, the ballots must have been postmarked by August 24th, Election Day.
In response, the Miller campaign pointed to heat Miller received in the primary because he left the Republican Party and then returned in protest over a dispute with party Chairman Randy Ruedrich, stressing that Murkowski doing the same would be “an uncomfortable thing to do.”
“It would be difficult ground to stand on. She loses the election and then says I’m going to take my marbles and I’m going home to be an Independent,” said a Miller campaign aide.
Shushannah Walshe is the co-author of Sarah From Alaska: The Sudden Rise and Brutal Education of a New Conservative Superstar. She was a reporter and producer at the Fox News Channel from August 2001 until the end of the 2008 presidential campaign.